Review: Las herederas (2018)

Las Herederas (2018)

Directed by: Marcelo Martinessi | minutes | drama | Actors: Ana Brun, Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova, Nilda Gonzalez, María Martins, Alicia Guerra, Raul Chamorro, Regina Duarte, Ines Guerrico, Javier Villamayor, Chili Yegros

‘Las herederas’ is the first feature film by the Paraguayan director Marcelo Martinessi (1973), who immediately won several awards with his debut. The sensitive and meaningful drama, about two middle-aged women living together – lovers, although this is not always clear – won the Silver Bear for best actress in Berlin (for Ana Brun as Chela), in San Sebastian the Sebastiane Latino Award and in own country the Jury Award at the World Cinema Amsterdam Festival.

Chela and Chiquita, two Paraguayan women from (once) wealthy families, have been dating for over thirty years, and their relationship doesn’t exactly sparkle. Over the years, they have developed a fixed division of roles: the extroverted Chiquita is responsible for running their lives and socializing. Chela, on the other hand, spends the day alone, painting and is reluctant to interact with the outside world. Their financial situation forces them to sell some of their beloved, inherited household effects. When Chiquita is sent to prison for fraud, Chela is suddenly left alone. She starts a taxi service for the rich, older ladies in the area. In her new role as a driver, the passive Chela comes out of her shell and manages to rediscover her desires.

One of the first things you notice in ‘Las herederas’ is the house where Chela and Chiquita live together. Dark wood adorns the living room, silverware adorns the classic chest of drawers, stately paintings hang on the wall, family portraits perhaps, an old piano has become out of tune unplayed and the chandeliers overlook it all. It is clear that these women carry the legacy of many generations. Not unimportant, therefore, in this film about two heirs (the ‘herederas’ from the title). Especially because their current financial situation forces them to sell their household effects bit by bit.

The class relations, which clearly play an important role in the film, are not portrayed as black and white as you might think at first. The class from which Chela and Chiquite come has become poorer and less powerful, making it understandable that the women hold on to certain privileges to which they are accustomed. Their past brings them pride – Chela can’t help but point out the high quality of the items and the fact that there is no haggling to the gaudy types who come to buy their household goods. At the same time, Martinessi shows that their environment is also a straitjacket: they are deeply concerned about what ‘the people’ will say about their problems and Chiquita’s fraud and imprisonment is covered up with a white lie.

In that sense, the prison in which Chiquita ends up symbolizes the ‘prison’ in which the women have actually been in for years. Their relationship, their home, their inheritance and their environment, together form the captivity. That Chela manages to wrestle herself out of that straitjacket and from the subordinate position in the relationship is therefore extra clever. In her new role as the driver of old, neat ladies from the neighborhood (a set of great supporting roles), Chela also meets the daughter of one of them – the young, sensual Angy. That encounter pulls Chela out of her comfort zone. At the same time, the imprisoned Chiquita – Martinessi filmed in a real prison in Paraguay – who ends up in the middle of the harsh but vivid reality, also experiences the same. And so the two women unexpectedly end up in the here and now.

The – almost entirely – female cast of ‘Las herederas’ consists largely of non-professional actresses, who manage to convince with their natural playing. The social and political – Paraguay had a military dictatorship from 1954 to 1989, the traces of which are still visible – low will not be immediately clear to every viewer, but it does not have to be. The sincere story about past and present, about regained pride and suppressed desires, is also convincing on an emotional level.

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